A Radio Station That Does Digital Right

Bonneville is considered one of the best operators in terrestrial radio.

My readers, in a multi-month poll last year, far and away voted Bonneville the best, probably in part to the excellent way they treat employees.

I know Bonneville along with a few other radio groups is big into the digital future. The only disappointment is that they are not budgeting the kind of money it deserves. Their instincts, however, are awfully good.

Take, for example, KTAR-FM in Phoenix.

During the recent immigration law dust up here, KTAR-FM’s news and talk format didn’t just deal with business as usual on-air. It created an instant KTAR-TV stream.

Out went the nationally-syndicated talk shows – at least for the day, bowing to good local sense – but News/Talk KTAR also did a TV stream for four hours of live coverage available on computers and mobile devices (iPhone and Droid). In fact, I saw them claim to provide more on-camera coverage than local TV stations and that may well be.

But there is a greater point.

KTAR integrated social media to get the conversation going with their audience.

Phoenix is one of the markets that is going to lead other Bonneville stations in the digital area. WTOP Washington is also blazing the way.

Of interest is the multi-billion dollar advertising jackpot awaiting them. This segment expects to grow many times larger within less than five years. Online video is more than 10% of all Internet ad spending now and growing by the week.

As you’ve seen me write in this space, radio will have to redefine itself, getting away from only audio to audio, plus video, plus social networking.

And it is important that the programs being developed by radio stations are not just related to what’s already on-the-air. It’s about finding a new audience.

My wife, for example, goes to AZ Central online for all her local news here in Scottsdale first thing every morning. Then, to the Philly newspapers to see what crime and mayhem, snow and humidity we bailed out on eight years ago and being a Delawarean, she checks in with The Dover Post online when it updates every Wednesday.

You see, it’s all about local – really. Local today and where you have resided previously.

Many TV websites hardly make mention of their TV content on the web counterpart. That is because the web offering is not an extension of the TV content. It’s its own destination.

Yet foolish traditional media minds keep driving TV viewers to their website until a viewer is sick to their stomachs almost as if the TV viewer must be a fool to watch the TV show when you can watch what you want on-demand on their website.

The danger in doing digital offshoots of traditional media content is that the add-on (let’s say, a TV stream for a radio station) can only have limited growth if it is mainly targeted at terrestrial radio listeners. Yes, target them, but also use the web’s wonderful viral magic in finding new fans. After all, that’s how this blog has grown in the past four years – virally. That’s how I found you!

I’m often asked by readers to cite radio operators who are doing something noteworthy in the digital area. There’s not much out there that’s remarkable.

I mean, terrestrial streams hardly account for a few percentage points in the ratings and have questionable benefits.

Radio companies are now selling cheap ads on the Internet – that is, cheaper than the too-cheap ads they are already selling on-air.

$10-15 ads being hawked for Imus, Laura Ingraham, Neal Boortz, Dr Laura, Lou Dobbs. It’s all wrong and headed down.

Let’s straighten a few things out:

1. You’re worth what you think you are worth and that goes for adventurous Internet experiments. When I converted Inside Radio to a daily fax, I didn’t know how much to charge for an ad at the bottom of a faxed page of content. It had never been done before. If I thought no one would buy it, what’s the use of doing it. Instead, I figured $1,000 an ad ought to be a good business and it took eight months to find the first advertiser who turned out to be John Tyler at Satellite Music Network. But John wanted an ad a week, a three-year contract and page one. As soon as I signed him, I raised the price to $2,000 for page one. And demand drove it even higher. The message: charge premium prices for digital. Please re-read that last line.

2. Digital is not a terrestrial radio add-on, it’s what you want to put a nicely priced ad on. I can promise you, anyone who doesn’t heed this advice will miss the Internet revolution part two – mobile content.

3. Look to consumers to see where they are listening and watching and then follow them. Your programmers and talent and marketing people can lead you. For those of you who enjoyed the growth of radio, you’re going to enjoy it all over again when radio companies create new separate content for the mobile space.

If I stood before the programmers, managers and marketers of Bonneville, CBS or Emmis at a brainstorming session, I would inspire them to use their radio know how as they step into the digital future.

Offer the best live and local programming on your terrestrial signal and create new and separate content using our unique skills for different social groups.

Where content and marketing must be created together in real-time.

Where listeners live and how to understand their changing preferences.

And the wisdom to know the difference.

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